Back in August I got a chance to sit down with Mike Kirkup who was then the Senior Director of Global Developer Relations at RIM. Since then Mike has left and Alec Saunders has made a big splash as the new Vice President of Developer Relations and Ecosystem Development at RIM even posting his email address publicly. This week we got a chance to sit down with him and pick his brain on a few of the issues developers want to know about the current BlackBerry Platforms, initiatives, and future goals. Read on for the details!
What is the main message that you are trying to convey to current and potential BlackBerry developers?
Alec clarified his message to developers as a three pronged approach that he sort of hit upon at DevCon.
- There are over 70 million BlackBerry users which is a large community which RIM has been growing every quarter.
- There is money to be made on the BlackBerry Platform which was highlighted in this recent independent survey.
- There is a bright future in BBX and the future BlackBerry ecosystem that you can develop for now.
What is your main goal or measure for success? Or simply what is your departments mission statement for developer relations?
Alec summed it all up into two words: “More Apps.” Though he did say the whole mission statement was to “Educate, support, and inspire developers to create new, better, and more apps for BlackBerry.”
So what are some of your goals to improve the experience of current and new BlackBerry developers?
There are three main areas that we are focusing on to improve the development experience for developers both new and experienced:
- Improving the process of getting up and running
- Improving documentation (I pushed him to make the documentation more social and community driven)
- Improving the actual tools themselves
We also measure success based on many metrics but you can boil it down to the number of apps available and the satisfaction of developers. We then base our strategy on beta feedback, developer surveys, and other information points like the support forums. If they see an issue escalated in the forums by multiple devs they will escalate it further as a priority.
Tell us a little bit about some of the new initiatives for the developer relations team?
I am a firm believer of having “boots on the ground” and reaching directly to developer communities. For example, a few companies came to us saying that they were confused about what RIM’s future BBX plans were for peripherals (think stuff like card swipers, printers, etc). We ended up organizing a whole Meetup in Waterloo where these companies interfaced directly with the teams developing the peripherals, BBX strategy and groundwork.
On top of that the Developer Relations team is a growing team around the world. We have people in many growing markets which is an area of large growth for RIM. They are also reaching out to developers in the support forums and Twitter @BlackBerryDev where developers can reach out directly to RIM’s team. You can even simply email Alec directly and he will try to delegate it.
What is your team doing in terms of recruiting new developers for BBX (HTML5, WebWorks, Flash, Native, Android) and the current BlackBerry ecosystem (Java, WebWorks)?
With BBX and even WebWorks we are reaching out to communities of developers to help them bring their expertise and catalog of apps to the BBX platform or WebWorks on both platforms. For example, we did this with game engines on the PlayBook along with web developer communities like Sencha and jQuery. We are also working on different opensource tools for the BBX platform which we have posted on our GitHub repositories to help native BBX developers. This goal is to help attract communities to the platform by making it enticing.
What about differentiating factors of the BBX and PlayBook platform? For example, currently it is not possible to create what RIM calls a “Super App” for the BlackBerry PlayBook. When is that functionality coming?
This is something that is definitely in the works. We have these “Super App” APIs in the works now for everything from notifications to deep system integration. Definitely more on this in the future as we keep on improving the PlayBook 2.0 OS with some of the features possibly being exposed to developers to test in beta.
What about more powerful integration into the core OS such as developers building their own Bluetooth, Bridge, NFC, USB, or other integrations into the hardware?
This is also coming. As long as it does not compromise the security and reliability of the OS then we are working on it. It might include some sort of extra certifications for Bluetooth stacks or drivers.
Does BBX allow RIM to be more agile in dealing with the development environment and updates? Until now RIM has worked in a 2 year cycle where they release a product and then they get feedback during the lifecycle throughout the release and then a year later provide the improvement. Is BBX going to finally change this?
BBX definitely allows us to be more agile. For example, with BBX the carrier only certifies the radio stack allowing RIM to update the rest of the OS without needing carrier certification every time. I (Alec) personally love working with developers and I plan on making it a much more effective feedback loop. Talking directly to developers and then taking that feedback back to the appropriate teams at RIM to take action. This will allow us to do continuous improvements to developer API’s and functionality instead of simply trying to ship the whole kitchen sink.
What about App World? How does that fit into the developer relations sphere?
App World is an integral story of the BlackBerry experience. Downloads are growing like crazy with 90 million in August to 140 million in October. They also noticed that 200 BBM connected apps account for 10% of downloads which just shows how much of a differentiator the BBM Social Platform SDK is.
What about for BBX? Will App World remain the only place to find apps for BBX just like the PlayBook? Is there a reason RIM is deviating from the current BlackBerry model to a more Apple-like walled garden of app markets?
The PlayBook and BBX app store experience is an “unapologetically curated experience. “ RIM is maintaining this control for a few reasons including the fact that we have found customers prefer to go to one place for apps. This also gives RIM the ability to exclude malicious apps and have editorial control so we don’t have an abundance of irrelevant or unnecessary apps.
This is important for devs too because it increases discoverability. I used to work at a startup and the hardest part was dealing with payments and transactions especially with carriers wanting a large portion of deals. App World handles all of that and offers 16 countries with carrier billing. This is critical in developing markets and places where users do not have credit cards, a key growth market for RIM.
What about the current limitations of App World such as a lack of discount codes, coupons, beta testing ability, slow approval times and release times, small pictures, no video trailers, and gift cards?
Stay tuned! Many of those are coming! I cannot speak directly to that but the App World team is working hard on adding those features after a successful App World 3.0 release.
What about HTML5 and WebWorks? Now that Adobe has killed their mobile Flash development to focus on HTML5 does that play well into RIM’s strategy.
HTML5 and WebWorks allows us to recruit new devs that weren’t previously mobile to easily make their applications mobile. It is also a key piece for devs to create enterprise apps that use HTML5 for easier deployment. RIM is following the standards and continues to expand on them. Our Torch team is blazing the trail by adhering to the latest standards and implementing things like WebGL.
What about PlayBook functions and BBX functions and API’s beyond the standards? Say for example the desktop notification API in HTML5?
The Torch team is planning on staying pretty close to the standards but exposing capabilities of the BBX platform. I cannot speak directly to the notifications API but we plan on exposing the BBX APIs to WebWorks developers and changing them to HTML5 standards if it expands to cover it. This is a way for developers to move away from proprietary and the current push by other ecosystems to native development.
Well it was a pleasure to speak to you Alec. We wish you, your team, and RIM the best of luck!
If you have any more questions you want us to ask Alec let us know in the comments!